Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fantasy Art - Didier Graffet

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Didier Graffet is a French artist, born near Lyon in 1970. He studied art at the Dupere School and at the Cohl School in Lyon. From 1994 Didier Graffet started his career as an independent illustrator and he is one of the top artists of imaginary in France. Throughout his career Didier illustrated role-playing games, adventure books, playing cards, CD covers and posters, but also numerous covers of fantasy and science fiction novels and many editions of Jules Verne’s novels. In recognition of his career he received in 2002 the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire for the Best Illustrator, the public award Visions du Futur in the same year, once again the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire in 2003 for his illustrations of Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” published by Éditions Gründ and the 2010 Ravenheart Award for the Best Cover Art together with Dave Senior for the cover artwork of Joe Abercrombie’s novel, “Best Served Cold”, published by Gollancz. In 2007 Didier Graffet released an art book featuring his works, “Mondes & Voyages”, and in 2009 he took part at the Maison d’ Ailleurs exhibition in Switzerland.

Interview with Didier Graffet

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Didier, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
How did you start to draw? What is your first recollection of art?
Didier Graffet: Early on, I was about 3 years old. I liked to create small universes like The African Savanna with all kind of animals or the Inuit Universes with sea lion hunters as an example. Also child universes like we see in children’s books.When I was growing up, there were a lot of Art books around me. I always liked pictures of any kind.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Among the painters who influenced you are William Turner, Gustav Klimt and Vincent Van Gogh, but also contemporary artists such as Philippe Druillet, John Howe and Alan Lee. How did your favorite painters influence your career? Are you more attracted by the classical art or by the contemporary one?
Didier Graffet: I don’t have any favorites. I love them all for different reasons: Turner for the power of skies and drama. Klimt for his symbolism. Van Gogh for his honesty as a painter, his naiveté touches a part of me. I discovered the comic strip work of Philippe Druillet when I was a teenager, and appreciated afterward the variety of his work. I like John Howe for his strong illustrations and Alan Lee for the sensitive nature of his drawings.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Speaking of classical and contemporary art what techniques do you prefer, the classical ones (acrylics, pencil, ink) or the modern ones (digital tools)? Do you start an art piece in a technique and finish it in another?
Didier Graffet: The technique I prefer is traditional paint. It’s much more sensitive than digital media. The support, wood board, cardboard or paper doesn’t always react in the same way and that can create some interesting “accidents”.

M(DW): You have studied at the Dupere School and specialized in the abstract, but that wasn’t your area of interest. However, how did your studies at the Dupere School help in your artist career? Did this experience help you improve your art technique?
DG: In fact, I only stayed three weeks at the Dupere School. The curriculum was too conceptual, too abstract for me. As the school year started, I chose to work at an advertising agency for the rest of the year, and then I matriculated to another school, the Emile Cohl School. It is a school of illustration, cartoons and comics. It was there where I learned the acrylic painting technique, the one I prefer today.

M(DW): What role does an art school have in artist development? Do you consider that a self-taught artist can have the same technique as an artist that attended an art school?
DG: A school of art gives one the opportunity to test many techniques and to compare different points of view, without risk. When you start in active life you must be efficient immediately. It must be successful, for if not, you will have no job!I had the opportunity to start many years ago, and was fortunate the publishers took an interest in me. Today you must be very good right away in order to garner the success you can build upon...

M(DW): You started your career as an independent illustrator in 1994. How difficult was to start as an independent artist? With your present experience and if it were possible what would you change in the beginning of your career?
DG: When you start, you have a few handicaps. You lack confidence in your technique, and when you are young, your experience is a bit on the short side. I would approach a project from my own point of view and sometimes that would eclipse the actual text you have to illustrate. Sometimes you’re right, but it’s rare in the beginning. The secret is to work again and again, to accumulate experience with different themes, and never refuse work, even if you don’t know if you can visualize it! Many times I accepted some work from just a ring of the phone. Afterwards, I would wonder how I was going to create the illustration! I always like the challenge. Of course this is my own experience, and with communication changing, it is now easier to find projects that fit one’s expertise… It makes me who I am today as an illustrator. I have no regrets.

M(DW): On your biography you say that among your favorite themes are imaginary travels. Where does this attraction come from? How do your personal travels influence your art representations?
DG: I think the power of imagination has no limits. You can go anywhere in your head. You can create a world with just pen and paper. I always like to look to the sea. It contains the promise of future travels, the first one begins in my mind. I went to Scotland on three different occasions, and I like this country because of its mystery. The fog there obscures visibility and allows the imagination to work, and a window may open a world of fantasy in one’s mind…

M(DW): You are attracted by the places you cannot see, that leave much to the imagination. Do you tend to keep that mystery in your paintings too? Do you want to leave much on the imagination of the viewer in your paintings?
DG: It’s the most important part of the picture, to stir one’s imagination, to give the keys to open this door. I try to let a part of the picture open on somewhere else. I’d like to go to abstract painting, with less details, more free, but I must do that in parallel with my job.

M(DW): With such a passion for travels do you have a passion for maps too? Would you like to work on a commission involving the drawing of a map?
DG: No, the only maps I draw are about Fantasy Worlds, the ones I prefer.

M(DW): With such an attraction for the imaginary, do you feel that your works in the fantasy genre comes natural? Do you prefer to work on illustrating fantasy worlds?
DG: I like when the stories begin in reality, or else have a connection with reality. For example, a story with an historical base that the author distorts and makes fantastic. I like to mix real things and make something else with it.

M(DW): May I ask if you have a favorite fantasy author? Would you like to illustrate a novel in particular in the future?
DG: I think the most popular and the best was Frank Frazetta. I and many other illustrators are indebted to him, myself included.

M(DW): Among my favorite cover illustrations made by you are the ones made for K.J. Parker’s “Fencer” trilogy (La Trilogie Loredan). Do you have an attraction for armory and weaponry too? Is the painting of such items heavily documented or do you use your imagination more?
DG: I like medieval weapons, more than weapons that use ammunition. You give your enemy a chance! I also like to render a steel aspect through painting various objects. Before I begin an illustration of a weapon or armor, I research much more now than when I first started working. I want to learn as much as I can about each subject I work on. It gives a new interest to my work, every time. After I digest the information, I attempt to create my own interpretation.

M(DW): Another wonderful work of yours is the sketch of Nautilus, but also the cardboard model of the submarine. How did you make such detailed sketches of Nautilus? Where did the idea of cardboard model come from?
DG: The sketch was created with a fine pen, from the Jules Verne’s description. If you read the book, you will see that I attempted to incorporate all descriptions about the vessel, but I added some new details to render the Nautilus more fantastic. Working on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was my most satisfying experience, a fantastic voyage each day. When I finished illustrating the book, I wanted to stay in this universe and I built the model of the Nautilus in cardboard.

M(DW): I’ve seen that you are very passionate about your works and you love to work with passionate people, book editors included. May I ask if it happened to refuse to illustrate a cover or a book because it didn’t brought a personal implication from your part? If you don’t like a script would you refuse the commission?
DG: When I refuse a demand it’s either I don’t have time or because the theme is too far from what I want to follow, especially in the case of an illustrated book (with inside illustrations). For a book cover, to like or dislike the story is not the issue. The publisher who edits the text is a professional. After he asks me to create an eye-catching illustration for the cover to market the book, it is my hope that my illustration makes one desire to read the story.

M(DW): With such a praiseworthy passion and dedication for your work how important is to have freedom of creativity on your commissioned works?
DG: I like working on commissioned works because it’s always different, but in fact in this restrictive frame, I find my liberty. It is a challenge each time, a challenge against myself, to make each project interesting.

M(DW): You published a personal art book in 2007 “Mondes & Voyages” (Worlds & Voyages). How difficult was to create a voyage through your personal art work for the book? Was it difficult to select the works that are featured in “Mondes & Voyages” (Worlds & Voyages)?
DG: This book is like a voyage I was on for fifteen years, the date of my first commissioned work. In this book you will see many different illustrations, with the technique evolving year by year, with several Fantasy themes. The variety of those Fantasy worlds, given by the publisher and imagined by the writers is a voyage itself. Concerning the selection of pictures, I chose some, and my publisher, les Editions Bragelonne, chose others. Having a good publisher helped me to make objective choices regarding which illustrations were finally chosen.

M(DW): You also have a fantasy calendar for 2010 published. Would you like to repeat such an experience in the future and publish another art book or calendar?
DG: Yes, of course. A new calendar is on the way for 2011, published by the same editor, “Le Pré aux Clercs”. I do not have a new art book in the works at the present time. I will wait a few years to have some really new images to present.

M(DW): At what are you working at the moment and what future projects do you have?
DG: I am working on many projects currently. Paintings, books and character designs for movies, following my inspiration and making new voyages. Actually I’m creating images for a personal book, but it’s a secret! I can only say that it’s a book about travel!

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.

For more information about Didier Graffet and a comprehensive portfolio, please visit his website,, and the site dedicated to his art book, Mondes & Voyages.

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.


Jamie Gibbs said...

I love the detail in the armour/weapon piece. It looks amazing. I also love the dark, forboding atmosphere that you can feel in the art too. A fantastic artist!

Anonymous said...

Nice article! Could you tell me for what book or what is the name of the painting behind the artist?

redhead said...

Great post!! thanks for doing the interview and posting the artwork.

I so want that 2011 calendar!

Mihai A. said...

Jamie, I love that piece a lot too. And indeed Didier Graffet is a fantastic artist. I am looking forward to see more of his works :)

Anonymous, thank you. I am not certain if that piece was used for a book. But you can find it at Didier's portfolio at in a bigger version.

Redhead, thank you very much. I would like that calendar too :)

Calibandar said...

I am thinking of getting his 78 page garphic novel of the Nibelungen which was published in France in 2008. It looks stunning.

Mihai A. said...

It truly looks great. Thank you for pointing it out; I must consider buying it too :)